studying

How Should Parents Handle a Bad Report Card?

Bad report cards are warning signs that something in your child’s world is not right. Did they take on too heavy of a course load? Are classes are too advanced for them? Is something socially upsetting them? Whatever the reason, it’s time to take stock. 

I learned early on that what my kids feared most was disappointing me and their dad with bad grades. As soon as I figured this out, I made it very clear to them that their grades good or bad were not important to us, but they should be important to them. I suggested my job is to support them and help them to get the best grades they can and when they are slipping in a subject to let me know early on and I’d try to help them to figure out why. I found when the fear factor was removed, my kids took more responsibility for their grades and did not want to disappoint themselves. 

But what can we do as parents when a bad report card comes home? The first thing is to evaluate whether that class is just too hard. Perhaps meeting with the teacher and figuring out if they might have been placed in the wrong level. It’s okay to do a math level they can succeed in instead of an advanced math course they might fail in. This is also a good time to test if your child is putting in the work they need to for this class. 

A meeting with our child’s Advanced Chemistry teacher after a bad grade made all of us aware of his study poor habits. When he was in Chemistry the previous year, he studied the night before each test and got A’s. This year in Advanced Chemistry the tests are cumulative, so his teacher pointed out he needs to study every night even if he doesn’t have a test the next day to secure the ideas they review in class. She also went over some test-taking skills and found that he panics with short-answer questions. She suggested he start the test in the middle, warm up with the sections he is comfortable with and then go back to the short answers. These helpful hints have really worked and his grade is back up to an A and he feels a lot more confident and less scared of both his parents and his teacher. 

During a meeting with his English teacher she emphasized that going to her for help with essays before turning them in is crucial. Once he did that, his English grade improved. Teachers want their students to do well and if the student shows an interest in their grades and improving them, the teacher is thrilled and might even offer extra credit. 

Evaluating your child’s extracurriculars and how they spend their time after school and on weekends is important. Perhaps being on two sports teams and three clubs is just too much. It’s true that colleges like to see well rounded students, but that GPA can really make or break whether they get into the school of their choice. So when in doubt, get those grades up before anything else. 

It’s always best to look at your child’s grades before their report card comes out. So the more involved you are with their assignments and tests early in the semester the better. But what to do if a child fails a class. Check in with their advisor. Sometimes it might be best to take that class again in summer school, the following year, or at a community college. 

And finally, if your student’s grades are slipping, make sure things are okay socially. Are they being bullied? Hanging out with the wrong crowd? Or depressed? Falling grades can be a warning sign so rule all the outside factors out and seek help if need be.

High school is a tough time academically and socially, so the more your child knows you and their teachers are on their side and want to see them succeed, the happier they will be. These are the last years we have at home with our kids, so please don’t make it all about punishment for a bad grade. Enjoy this time and work through the struggles with them. And they will succeed.

Juniors: Use Midwinter Recess to Make an SAT/ACT Prep Plan!

Despite having the illustrious title of ‘academic advisor’ at myKlovr, I don’t know everything. For example, five minutes ago I had no idea that public school students in New York City had a midwinter recess, or what a midwinter recess even was. I grew up in Tennessee, and we only got spring break!

As this article is slated for publication on midwinter recess eve, please take a moment to enjoy the fact that you have a week off of school.

*Momentary Pause for Enjoyment*

Now that you’ve had enough time to enjoy your break, let’s get down to business. Juniors, if you haven’t already taken the SAT/ACT, the time is fast approaching! The next ACT is on April 14th, and the SAT follows right behind it on May 5th. Simply put, you have between eight and ten weeks to prepare for your first date with a standardized test.

Let’s use part of this week to create an SAT/ACT prep plan!

Selecting Your Test: 2 Days

A quick Googling informs me that in New York City, the SAT is a much more popular test than the ACT. But popularity doesn’t mean everything. If you know the colleges you want to apply to, research their admissions data to determine which test the majority of applicants take before applying. If your dream colleges have no preference, or you don’t yet know where you want to apply, it’s time to take a full-length, timed practice SAT and ACT.

Yes, you will need two days, one for each test. Don’t try to take them both on the same day; your results will be as useful as pulling a random score out of a bag. Take the tests in the morning, just like you will on test day. Once you have your scores, compare them against the SAT and ACT percentile rankings. On whichever practice test you earned a higher percentile, that’s the one for which you will prepare.

Note: To give your brain a break, skip a day between each practice test. That way test fatigue won’t affect the results of your second practice test.

Figuring Out Your Weaknesses: 1 Day

It’s time to dive into the test results to discover your weaknesses. You can do this in one of two ways:

  1. By Question Topic: For each section of the test, arrange all missed questions into categories based on their question topic. For example, if you missed a comma question on the ACT English test, that question would go under ‘commas.’ When you are finished, you will understand which topics are giving you the most trouble.
  2. By The Reason You Missed the Question: Did you miss the question because of a simple mistake, because you misunderstood part of the question, or because you had no clue how to solve the question? By categorizing your missed questions this way, you can identify the ‘low hanging fruit,’ question types you can master with the least amount of effort.

Either way, you organize your missed questions, you will discover your weaknesses on the SAT or ACT. The next step is to create a study schedule. 

Scheduling Time Between Now and Test Day: 1 Day

Sit down with a calendar and mark everything coming up between now and test day that has nothing to do with the test itself. Examples include family activities, working at a part-time job, extracurricular activities, etc. All of these commitments come before studying for the ACT/SAT, so you need to know just how much time you can dedicate to studying.

Remember, you don’t need to study every day. When planning and executing a successful study schedule, the key word is ‘consistency.’ If you make a plan to study four times a week, see it through. If you resolve to commit one hour to each study session, see it through. Just like exercising, studying will become more natural if you make it part of your routine.

Start Your Study Plan: 1 Day

There’s no time like the present to get into the studying habit. Near the end of your midwinter recess, take an hour to hit the ground running. As it’s your first study session, start with something easy, one of the ‘low hanging fruit’ topics we discussed earlier. Mastering a simple topic will give you a sense of accomplishment and encourage you later on. Also, another reason I’d recommend starting with an easy topic is that you probably won’t need outside help. Save the harder topics for when you’re back in school and can call on the help of teachers and peers.

Final Thoughts

Hey, would you look at that: midwinter recess lasts a total of nine days, and you’ll only need five of them to help you create an ACT/SAT prep plan. That means there’s still plenty of time to relax, and maybe even play tourist in your hometown.

Happy studying!

The Pros and Cons of Taking Above-Grade-Level-Courses

As a high school teacher, I came across many students placed in above-grade-level courses. In some cases, students were gifted and needed a challenge. (My school did not offer honors or AP courses.) In other cases, students were put into a class because there was no other option. (My school was small, so this happened a lot.)

Starting from my personal experience as a student and teacher, I want to use this article to discuss the pros and cons of taking above grade-level courses. Though I am writing this article with you, the student, in mind, pass this article along to your parents and teachers. There are a few things they can learn from it, too.

The Pros of Taking Above Grade-Level Courses

I want to tell you about one of my first students. Let’s call her D. I first had D her freshman year, which was odd since my school usually didn’t accept freshmen. But D was a special case. Quiet and bright, she excelled in my sophomore English class. Due to my school’s student scheduling mishaps, she also took U.S. government, a senior-level course. D took these challenges in stride. Four years later, she graduated class valedictorian.

What’s D’s story teaches us is that some students can perform exceptionally well in above-grade-level courses. How did she do it? She had a few essential advantages going for her:

  • Academically gifted
  • Self starter
  • Motivated
  • Grit

Believe it or not, the top bullet is the least important. In my career as a teacher, I had many academically talented students who lacked the social skills, motivation, and resilience necessary to work to their real potential. In my opinion, grit is key to success. As reported by The Atlantic, grit is “shaped by several specific environmental forces, both in the classroom and in the home, sometimes in subtle and intricate ways.” More than anything else, D’s grit helped her succeed.

Sum Up: If you possess these traits, especially grit, an above-grade-level course may be right for you.

The Cons of Taking Above Grade-Level Courses in High School

As a teacher, I never had a student who could not handle the responsibilities of an above-grade-level course. When I was in middle school, however, I was that unprepared student. The Powers That Be decided that I was ready to take 7th-grade math in the 6th grade. I was not prepared academically, emotionally, or socially. I quickly found myself back in 6th-grade math. What does my story teach us? Just because a student is labeled ‘gifted’ does not mean that he or she can learn in an above-grade-level course.

Let’s break down some of the issues that students in this situation face:

  • Feeling alienated from grade-level peers
  • Feeling like ‘the odd one out’ in a class of older students
  • Lack of organizational skills (e.g., not using a calendar to organize assignments and due dates)
  • Lack of coping skills (e.g., reaction to performing poorly on an exam)

This isn’t the entire list of concerns you may feel. If you have the option of taking an above-grade-level course next semester or next year, write down your concerns and share them with your parents and teachers.

Sum Up: There are many potential stumbling blocks when taking an above-grade-level course. Choosing to take one requires much consideration.

If You’re Taking an Above Grade-Level Course

After my brief experience with 7th-grade math, I didn’t get another chance to take an above-grade-level course until 10th grade. Long story short, I and a handful of other 10th graders enrolled in honors chemistry, a course that up until then had been off limits to underclassmen.

Did I struggle? Oh yeah. But how I succeeded in that environment can teach you how to excel in your course. Let’s review some valuable pointers:

  • Ask for help. In honors Chemistry, I needed A LOT of tutoring from my teacher. To get it, I had to ask for it. There’s no shame in it, and asking for help is the first step toward a better grade and better outlook.
  • Enlist the aid of an older sibling. If you have an older brother or sister who’s still in high school, pick their brain about the best ways to succeed in the course. Even if they never had the teacher or course, they can still provide some valuable tidbits about organization and planning.
  • Roll with the punches. Even if the course is your favorite subject, you’re likely to struggle academically, especially at the beginning. If you fail your first test, it’s not the end of the world. All it means is that it’s time to follow the advice in the previous two bullets.
  • Join an extracurricular activity. To lower any feelings of alienation from your grade-level friends, join an extracurricular activity where you can interact with them. Even if it’s only one day a week, you’ll get more time in an environment of familiar faces.

Sum Up: If you’re taking an above-grade-level course, know how to reach out for help and stay connected with your grade-level peers.

If You’re a Parent or Teacher

As a parent, it’s natural to feel a swell of pride when a teacher suggests that your child could take an above-grade-level course. Go ahead and feel proud. But before doing anything else, consider the pros and cons covered in this article. Though bright, your child may not be ready for such a big academic and social leap.

If you’re teaching a student in an above-grade-level course, the best advice is to treat the student like every other during class. However, keep in mind that the student may need additional supports to succeed, such as scaffolding. Using these scaffolds for the whole class will not single out the student. Also, expect the student to need individualized guidance, especially during the beginning of the year.

Sum Up: Your child or student will likely need extra help when taking an above-grade-level course.

Final Thoughts

Taking an above-grade-level course requires a particular kind of student. Is that student you? It depends. If you’re unsure whether you can handle the jump, consider honors or AP courses as an alternative. They’re extremely rigorous and provide an excellent academic challenge. Also, excelling in these courses looks just as favorable in the eyes of college admissions counselors as above grade-level courses.

Finally, before making any big decisions, talk to your parents, teachers, or other adults you trust. They will provide you sound advice.

No matter your choice, good luck in the coming year!

PSAT: To Panic Or Not

My son Jasper has PSAT’s on Wednesday and my daughter is suffering from SAT-PTSD. At dinner last night I asked Jasper how he was feeling about the upcoming test. Before he could answer, his sister Sydney, a senior, cried out, “Do we have to talk about SAT’s?!”

Over the past three years, Sydney has taken the PSAT twice, the SAT three times and the ACT once. Each time she does better. Incrementally better. But with all her prepping, her score is still not where she wants it to be. She can technically take it two more times before turning in her scores to college admissions this winter.

Jasper has watched his sister’s stress elevate. He has sympathized, endured her outbursts and even made her a special breakfast early one Saturday test-taking morning.

Jasper’s strategy is to go in unprepared. He thinks the results of the first PSAT will alert him to his weaknesses. He’ll deal with those then.

Sydney was not letting him get away with the nonchalant attitude. She wrestled him to the couch after dinner and went over each section of his College Board practice guide, giving expert guidance. She looked at me, worried. “I won’t be here when he applies to college.” She tried to give him a hug. He pushed her away. “It’s fine, since I won’t be panicking during the tests.”

An increasing number of colleges are now test optional.  They realize some kids are not good test takers. Graduation rates at colleges are growing as a measure of excellence, and high SAT scores are not the best predictor of a student’s ability to follow through for four long years.

“You gotta stress out a bit,” said Sydney.

I’m curious if keeping his cool will be beneficial to Jasper. Is it worth it to study for the PSAT? Experts differ on the value of test prep, especially if takes away from school work. Grades are still the most important thing.   

I have to think his will be healthier than Sydney’s approach, worrying and being nervous on the way to the test. It’s hard to know what to do as a parent. It always is. I can only look to my kids for guidance. And I think on Wednesday, we’ll just treat it as another day. No special breakfast, not talk about it. We’ll just hope he gets a good night’s sleep and does the best he can.

The Good and the Ugly of Procrastination

It can be rough during college. You’re up at 3 in the morning writing the 10-page essay that’s due tomorrow. Or maybe you’re already in that situation in high school. Well, it turns out that essay was actually assigned 2 weeks ago, and you started writing 2 minutes ago. See the problem here? I do and don’t! That’s right, procrastination can be good and bad. Let’s see what I mean.

Cons to procrastinating:

  • Wasting time

You’re wasting time doing something absolutely pointless, while also worrying about your long-lost essay.

  • Not getting things done

You procrastinated for 2 weeks, and then you decided that you don’t want to do the work you really should be doing. Now that’s bad.

  • Ruining your health

Late night, lots of coffee, no sleep, bags under eyes. Sounds familiar? Yeah, well, let me tell you a secret: you’re definitely ruining your health, and I bet you know it too!

Pros to procrastinating:

  • Get things done FASTER

Studies show that procrastination leaves you less time to do things, makes you more time-pressured, and this pressure actually helps you complete things faster.

  • Relaxing

You may be using the time you could have been working, just chillin’ on your couch which can actually be quite nice!

  • Prioritizing

Maybe you prioritized your duties, and that essay wasn’t that important. That’s fine, as long as you spent that time doing something productive.

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